Discover how libraries are “information hubs” for rural communities
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A little girl seemingly dances down the aisle, almost as if she is going to meet a well-known friend. Between the columns of books, she quickly spots her favorite–a colorful copy of a picture book of animals. Before settling to the reading nook, something new captures her eye. She gingerly grabs the book on space exploration and a smile of wonderment graces her face as she escapes into the magic of the pages.
This experience is what Suzette Chang, Guthrie Public Library director of library services, refers to as a “lightbulb moment.”
“A ‘lightbulb moment’ can be any opportunity from a little person getting their first library card to a regular customer taking a chance on exploring a different background,” Chang says. “From the smallest customers to the most seasoned, every day is a chance for something new at the library.”
She refers to the library of today as an “information hub.” Yes, there are print materials in both standard and large format, a benefit for those with vision problems. There are also magazines, newspapers, DVDs, audiobooks and e-books. In total, there are close to 30,000 items you can touch or download. There are also databases that help customers do a wide variety of tasks, like find jobs, prepare for the GRE exam or research how to start a business.
Before the pandemic, the library was a lively source of interactive programs. At the height of COVID-19, the library had to shut its doors but did continue to offer electronic services like teaching customers how to download a book. Even with the convenience of digital products, it does not lessen the importance of maintaining the physical library building.
“We are a safe space for any human being, regardless of background or understanding, to cultivate their beliefs. We are not the library of the past,” Chang says.
Guthrie, Oklahoma, has the distinction of being home to the state’s first public library in 1901. In order for Oklahoma to become a recognized territory, turn of the century statutes required a local library be established. Chang says that history is both powerful and painful as laws of that time excluded people of color from the original library.
The Excelsior Library, established in a Guthrie home in 1908, is thought to be one of the first African American libraries in the Southwest region. A community group has come together with the goal to renovate the building and transform it into the state’s first museum for an African American library.
“Now more than ever there is a desire to acknowledge that pain, process it and decide, ‘Where do we go from here with that knowledge?’” Chang says. “Collectively, Guthrie is committed to moving forward.”
The library serves more than 14,000 active card holders in Logan County, which is home to many citizens served by Central Rural Electric Cooperative.
In the spirit of the cooperative principle, “Concern for Community,” Oklahoma’s rural electric cooperatives continue to support libraries in many ways today.
Alfalfa Electric Cooperative
The co-op’s Operation Round Up program has helped the Cherokee Public Library with summer reading programs and the Carmen Public Library with building maintenance.
Central Rural Electric Cooperative
The Central Community Foundation board provided a grant to the Guthrie Public Library to purchase two insect door curtains for the two main entrances and awarded the Wellston Community Library with a grant for roof repairs.
CKenergy Electric Cooperative
CKenergy Electric Foundation has granted just under $32,000 to community libraries in Mustang, Apache, Mountain View and Thomas, for computers, books, summer reading programs, shelving units and many other purposes. Including school libraries, the foundation’s reading related grants near $65,000.
East Central Electric Cooperative
The cooperative’s Operation Round Up program has donated to Midway School Library for renewals of an accelerated reader program for elementary and high school; to Morris Library—Lions Club for library automation software, copy machine and book cart; to Checotah Library for tables and chairs; and a grant to the Mounds Library. Together, the program has donated almost $10,000 to public libraries.
Indian Electric Cooperative
IEC assisted the Jay C. Byers Library with a project that added 1,700 square feet to the historic former elementary school building. The new space includes a children’s area and a community meeting room.
Oklahoma Electric Cooperative
OEC supports public libraries through sponsorships, reading programs, employee involvement and the co-op’s Operation Round Up program. Recently, the co-op sponsored the Pioneer Library System Foundation’s annual Touch-A-Truck event.
Southwest Rural Electric Association
The Great Plains Literacy Council (GPLC) received a $1,400 grant from the co-op’s Operation Round Up program. After the onset of COVID-19, GPLC repurposed the funds to purchase five Mini Portal Tablets and three Portal TVs for local nursing facilities. With this technology, GPLC is making it easier for nursing home residents to video call their loved ones and participate in virtual ceremonies, exercise classes, etc. as long as the facility has access to WiFi.
Oklahoma is home to more than 200 public libraries, each of which are dedicated to bringing people the joy that comes with knowing information is easily accessible. To find a library near you, visit libraries.ok.gov.